A look at the birth and early years of American science, and its interactions with the American Revolution and formative years of the United States. MA look at the birth and early years of American science, and its interactions with the American Revolution and formative years of the United States. Many of the founders were personally involved in science and demonstrably liked it and it permeated their thinking and writing. But this isn't just about the founders, but about how the general awakening and scientific literacy of the public helped propel sentiments supporting independence, and how that same scientific literacy and curiosity helped spark the needed industrial and economic developments the new country required to truly achieve independence. Development of intellectual property rights for inventors was considered crucially important and Thomas Jefferson personally reviewed patent applications as Secretary of State. The struggle to get the patent system right reflects the strong consensus that America's economic and industrial growth depended heavily on inclusive growth, and they avoided using the term "patent" specifically because European patent systems were for granting monopolies. This example is also emblematic of the notion that the founders considered the actions of the government to be a great experiment, open for continuous improvement and revision based on feedback. The patent system certainly shows we don't have everything right yet....more
A recent history of the fever of commercial space ventures of various types, mostly focusing on the 2000s. This was an easy and exciting read (too badA recent history of the fever of commercial space ventures of various types, mostly focusing on the 2000s. This was an easy and exciting read (too bad some of the companies discussed still haven't done much since the book was published, with the exception of SpaceX), but made no effort at all to conceal the author's excitement and biases on the topic. His heart is on his sleeve throughout the book where he uncritically gushes with hero worship on each of these space entrepreneurs. And I can't help but feel the same way most of the time. A little critical thought and some keen questions might have made the book more useful, if less fun. It also veered into the biographical more than I generally prefer. While I admire what these guys are doing, I am not terribly interested in their personal lives. That said, I learned a lot about many of these programs, which is saying a lot, because I have gleaned every shred of information I could find on these companies and their programs long before picking up this book. It contains a lot of behind-the-scenes information on the development programs, and how different commercial and government entities are reacting to these changes....more
This is almost like two distinct books, with the history of technocratic development in the early portion, and the latter part tearing down the notionThis is almost like two distinct books, with the history of technocratic development in the early portion, and the latter part tearing down the notion of the "benevolent autocrat." A lot of attention is focused on China's rise right now, and they and other developing countries are looking to Singapore and other countries who allegedly had miraculous growth under autocrats to emulate. Dr. Easterly systematically dismantles many of these claims and reveals many other factors that led to growth--where growth actually happened and was not a product of erroneous data. What also makes this notion alarming is how many people and politicians in the West are latching on to technocratic and authoritarian solutions....more
Most people don't give water a second thought, at least in the developed world. We take clean, safe, and plentiful drinking water for granted. But lesMost people don't give water a second thought, at least in the developed world. We take clean, safe, and plentiful drinking water for granted. But less than a hundred years ago, even in the US and UK, drinking the water was a crap shoot (pardon the pun). Here we are treated to a tour of water systems, beginning with Water 1.0 in Rome (importing water with aqueducts and canals), along with primitive gravity-fed sewage systems that drained directly into the river. Meanwhile, China and Japan were using sewage to fertilize their fields to boost crop yields, but with some, er, side-effects. Then it covers the successive crises that drove the development of drinking water treatment and sewage treatment, before bringing us up to the current state of the art with water systems and future possibilities. Along the way, each generation of water treatment came along with unintended consequences, like cancer causing chemicals and environmental challenges. Cities have also grown rapidly and grown in places without sustainable water supplies. Many of them are turning to a variety of water conservation methods, water re-use and recycling, and desalination.
The writing was clear and readable, and it definitely wasn't a dry read (sorry, I just couldn't help myself). The topic is important because of the need for citizen engagement. Most of the US water infrastructure is really old; much of it is nearly a century old. Politicians are reluctant to pay the huge sums of money for upkeep, much less improvements, in part due to anti-tax sentiment among the public. Most of these systems need upgrades to keep up with the population, and again, the people who work on these systems are inherently conservative and will provide more of the same unless they see public support or at least a safe environment for them if upgrades have unexpected problems. These upgrades will require investment, but won't necessarily be more expensive to operate than current systems. Besides, informed citizens should be involved with decisions as critical as stewardship of this precious resource. ...more
It's not really a handbook for a hypothetical collapse, but it's a great place to start. It prioritizes and outlines key technologies you could plausiIt's not really a handbook for a hypothetical collapse, but it's a great place to start. It prioritizes and outlines key technologies you could plausibly start with from scratch to reboot the essentials for human survival. Importantly, it also gives tips on how to skip centuries and millenia of blind alleys and leapfrog intermediate stages of development. However, the last chapter also highlights the importance of socio-economic conditions required for technology to get implemented and to provide incentives to advance. If people are eeking out a subsistance lifestyle, anything not directly tied to food production may be dismissed as frivelous. People may be constrained from innovating for socio-economic reasons.
One missing ingredient here that really concerns me is how to preserve cooperation among the survivors or how to restore it among long-disconnected groups of survivors. The world would be a dangerous place and not every group would be interested or able to do the hard work of survival. How could you restore civilization if you spend all of your resources preparing *in case* a larger, more fierce band of predatory humans comes to take it away? Utopians, please note that at least 2% of the human population are predatory, but most of these have the self-discipline to advance within the rules of society. Ibn Khaldun described how primitive predatory nomads have cyclically overcome more technologically advanced agrarian societies. Even if predators don't snuff out your settlement of survivors, how does your group protect itself from predators within and turn into a feudalistic society? On the flipside, how do you get everyone to contribute when lots of people will want to free ride without contributing to the survival of the group? The author called the scientific method the greatest invention of all, but the ability of large groups of people to peacefully cooperate is absolutely critical and underpins that invention as well....more
Absolutely gorgeous photos and illustrations accompanied by well written text to cover covering the road to the first manned moon landings and beyond.Absolutely gorgeous photos and illustrations accompanied by well written text to cover covering the road to the first manned moon landings and beyond. Not only does this show the final iteration of each of the pieces to the Apollo project, but a lot of the steps in between, showing many of the development paths attempted to get there.
While it contained a wealth of technical information using clear illustrations and comprehensible language, the one slight disappointment for me (especially considering it was billed as a Haynes Workshop Manual) was that it didn’t get down to the level where it would tell me how to troubleshoot problems and what tools to use and steps to take to swap out modules. But I reluctantly admit that would take a large collection of books and that my expectations might be considered a bit unrealistic. Still... ...more
I wrongly assumed this would be similar to other books I have read on the search for life elsewhere in the universe. The author makes you at once undeI wrongly assumed this would be similar to other books I have read on the search for life elsewhere in the universe. The author makes you at once understand how insignificant our planet is in the vast universe, yet how lucky we are to have it--it's all we've got, at least for the forseeable future. The writing style is approachable and clear, and explains concepts clearly. It delves into how our solar system formed and tours all of the stages Earth went through for us to be here to read this. He interviews some really amazing people I would love to meet, including one--Sara Seagal, whom I would work for for free. Then all of this knowledge is turned to understanding the requirements for other planets to support life and how we might detect them, and the struggles of the scientists, administrators, and legions of others to get projects funded to do that. Normally chatty biographical sketches of people annoys me, especially if it uncritically portrays people in a positive light, but the technique here merely revealed the quality of the people dedicating their lives to this pursuit, and the personal costs they are bearing....more
This book is written for children, so it's a little hard for me to evaluate. There is a place in Southwest Minnesota called the Jeffers Petroglyphs (This book is written for children, so it's a little hard for me to evaluate. There is a place in Southwest Minnesota called the Jeffers Petroglyphs ( http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/... ) containing native american carvings in the red rock exposed on the prarie there. I visited the site and the museum there many times. This book follows the path with two children while the grandfather of one of them explains the symbology behind many of the carvings. Assuming these explanations are on the mark, this gives some insight into the culture, priorities, and reasoning of the ancient inhabitants of the area, as well as some real, but extinct animals that used to live in the area....more